Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.
(1 Corinthians xii. 1)
In the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity, the subject matter is struggle. As always, in the Trinity season, we are exhorted to so turn to God through Jesus Christ, that we might struggle to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, becoming visible and audible agents – revealers – of God’s presence in the world. And today we are reminded of a few key elements that rightly position our souls before God who longs to struggle with us and bring His gifts alive in our hearts and souls.
First, we learn what is not meant by struggling in relation to God. I would not have you ignorant…carried away by dumb idols, (1 Cor. xii. 1,2) St. Paul tells the young Corinthian Church. Jesus witnesses the worship of dumb idols when He visits the Temple at Jerusalem and finds His own people wholly ignorant of the gifts that God’s own people should have struggled to obtain as they prepared for His coming. Our Gospel lesson tells us this morning that Christ Jesus entered the Holy City, whose Temple symbolized the Church that Christ would grow from the foundation of Solomon’s beginning. The Temple was meant to be a place of encounter between God and man in this world, but Jesus finds it rather the site of sinful commerce between man and man. And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou…the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. (St. Luke xix. 41, 42) Instead of finding faith, hope, and love, there Jesus finds man’s obsession with mammon and money. In the Temple, Jesus finds that God’s Word which proclaimed His coming is unheard by the Jews, who have been blinded and deafened by their worship of dumb idols. Jesus finds men who were too busy for faith in the gifts of God’s Word and Spirit, now to be summed up and perfected in His mission to fallen men. They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course. (Ps. lxxxii. 5) They worship mammon and money and don’t reveal even an inkling of the struggle involved in putting God first and worshiping Him alone.
Second, in Jesus’ weeping over the sins of His own people, we have a picture of that struggle and pain that must characterize our own mourning over our sins and the need to repent. The Church is the new Temple of God, and in it we too must grieve and lament over our ignorant worship of dumb idols. Origen of Alexandria, commenting upon these first few verses, says that
Jesus weeps over Jerusalem first to confirm and establish those virtues which He desired should come alive in us. He writes, All of the Beatitudes of which Jesus spoke in the Gospel He confirms by his own example. Just as He had said “blessed are the meek”, He confirms this where He says “learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart. And just as He said “blessed are ye that weep”, He also wept over the city. (Origen: Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers: iii, p. 341)
We must struggle to embrace meekness, which is that virtue of knowing our place and the limitations of our human nature. We must then struggle to mourn and weep over our frailty and failure to be faithful to God. We also struggle to remember that Christ’s weeping is a sign of His compassion for us. St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes that Christ, who wishes that all men should be saved, had compassion on these. And this would not have been evident to us unless made so by some very human gesture. Tears, however, are a sign of sorrow. (Ibid) St. Gregory the Great writes that the compassionate Saviour weeps over the ruin of the faithless city, which the city itself did not know was to come. (Ibid) And so three of the great Church Fathers remind us that Christ uses His human nature to reveal to us the great urgency to struggle to practice meekness and mourning so that our souls might unite with Him and thus be rightly related to a sinful world and our part in it.
So, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we struggle to confess that we have too often and for too long worshiped dumb idols in ignorance and have failed to confess our sins and mourn over them. But why is this such a struggle? The answer is that we are habituated to this world and our fleshly comforts. Our little worlds, one might say, are far too worldly. We are so immersed in creature comforts that have morphed into needs that we treat God and His Heavenly Treasure as a kind of afterthought of merely occasional compartmentalized interest. The fallen Jerusalem over which Jesus weeps this morning is the fallen Jerusalem of our souls. The soul that is fallen has lost the habit of ongoing submission to God’s Word of Promise for redemption, found only in the saving life of Jesus. The soul that is fallen has forgotten its sin because it is no longer confesses its powerlessness in relation to the God who alone can heal, redeem, and save.
We might recover the soul’s spiritual consciousness by looking at today’s Old Testament lesson. Here we read that Jacob rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok. (Genesis xxxii. 22) Jacob, the son of Isaac, crosses the river Jabbok, which means to struggle, to empty, or to pour out. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Jacob was struggling to leave his old self, the natural man and the soul immersed in earthly and profane commerce, behind. Jacob can be our model for the man who empties himself of the worship of dumb idols, leaves behind corrupted desires for impermanent riches, and struggles to cross the spiritual waters. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. (Genesis xxxii. 24) Possessions, money, even spouses must be left behind for a season so that true spiritual struggle can begin. Jacob struggles and wrestles. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that, The Church’s spiritual tradition has seen in this story a symbol of prayer as a faith-filled struggle which takes place at times in darkness, calls for perseverance, and is crowned by interior renewal and God’s blessing. This struggle demands our unremitting effort yet ends by surrender to God’s mercy and gift. (Weekly Catechesis, May 25, 2011) Wrestling is spiritual struggle. Each of us must engage it. God struggles with us against the deceitful promises of the world, the flesh, and the devil. In the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ, we find God’s struggle to purge the temples of our bodies and souls of any evil that pursues false commerce in the world. Of course, God never forces His saving power upon us. He does not wish to prevail against Jacob or us. He touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was put out of joint, as he wrestled with him. (Genesis xxxii. 25)
Wrestling or struggling with God leaves behind a sign of our own imperfection and finitude. The thigh, which means his heart, struggles until it rests in God. God’s touch is the loving reminder that He will be the source of our healing and redemption. Jacob is touched by the love of God that saves him. He struggles or wrestles to obtain a blessing from God. God asks, What is thy name? (Genesis xxxii. 27) Jacob answers. God says, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. (Genesis xxxii. 28) Israel means he has striven, hunted, aspired with God. And so too must we if we would be saved.
You and I must be prepared for spiritual warfare. Jesus weeps because He knows what we lose if we refuse to struggle and wrestle with God. Blessed are they that mourn. (St. Matthew v. 4) Mourning is grief over how we have neglected God’s will. We mourn over our failure to struggle more earnestly to discover His promises for us. Our spiritual thighs must be felt to be out of joint. We must struggle to grasp that God’s Grace intends that we hobble around this world careful not to be desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope…mourning the vanished power of the usual reign, as T. S. Eliot reminds us. (Ash Wednesday) If we fail to wrestle and struggle with God, to hobble, we shall never feel our condition as sinners in need of a Saviour. If we fail to struggle with God, we shall never be able to go with Jesus to His Cross. If we fail to struggle with God, we shall never see how Son of God has won our salvation in His ultimate struggle to hobble to the Cross to conquer sin, death, and Satan.
Jesus…wept, and then we read that He went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. (St. Luke xix. 45, 46) In Jesus’ tears, we must struggle to learn that through Him, God expresses His Love as wrath against our sin. For whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth. (Hebr. Xii. 6) Let us receive this wrath as Divine Loving correction. Christ brings us to our own powerlessness. We were made to struggle and hobble. Jacob wrestled with God and found himself. Now God, in Jesus Christ, wrestles and struggles against Satan for us. Satan underestimated the omnipotence of his adversary. Satan tortured and crucified Christ as Man. Christ assumed our weakness. But Satan forgot that as Christ the Man was dying, His death was already becoming the instrument of Son of God’s victory over sin, death, and Satan. In the Crucified Dying Lord, Death took on new meaning as the source and seedbed of the hobbling struggle of new life that never dies.
Jesus wept over the destruction of Jerusalem as He saw the human soul’s failure to struggle to put God first. Jerusalem is fallen, and so are we. But now Christ takes us into His loving death as we struggle and hobble to be born again and walk upright. Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. (Eph. V. 2) Our Collect directs, let us ask God for such things as shall please [Him] that the Spirit may enable us to struggle and hobble to thank God for this and rejoice!
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: